“The Kids Are All Right” has an underlying theme of organic, local living that’s overshadowed by the lesbian love angle. Two sides of the issue are equally portrayed: those who act sustainably and those that find a way to criticize those who do for their pretentiousness. Annette Benning’s character gets fed up with the sustainability trend and goes on this rant: “I just can’t with the hemp milk and the organic farming. If I hear one more person say they love heirloom tomatoes, I’m gonna kill myself. Do you know that we’re composting now? ‘Oh no, don’t throw that in the trash. You have to put that in the composting bin where all the beautiful little worms will turn it into organic mulch and then we’ll all feel good about ourselves.’” While watching it I realized that Annette Benning was right.

This “holier-than-thou” mentality is a prevailing one in Ann Arbor. Many of the fancy, Main Street restaurants have menus packed with descriptions of every ingredient, some even including the farm of origin. A handful of those places also boast a beer and spirits selection that consist entirely of locally brewed or manufactured alcohol and it’s most certainly a point of pride for those establishments. But does that give them the right to criticize other places that do not follow the same policy? Does it mean Michigan beers are somehow better or that organic heirloom tomatoes taste better? Not necessarily. It’s a matter of opinion.

“Organic” might carry different connotations depending on where you use the word. In Ann Arbor it is praised, but elsewhere it may be regarded as pompous, simply labeling something different for the sake of increasing the price. Keep in mind that “organic” for food only means a harsher set of FDA standards for production and distribution of the product and there still is insufficient evidence to support the claim that organic food is safer, healthier or better tasting than conventionally grown foods.

We’re very satisfied whenever we mention our responsible choices, but sometimes that stinks of arrogance. That also applies to the general sustainability movement, especially when it’s billed as a hip, life-changing decision. I’m not arguing about the movement itself. Taking steps toward saving the Earth is absolutely the right choice. However, since its nascence, the sustainability initiative has been a somewhat hideous creature, a many-headed beast dividing Americans between partisan lines and revealing our many faults — the most salient being not everyone can afford to be green. Sustainability is often publicized as a rich man’s endeavor. Yes, we are still years away from having responsible technology that is accessible to the entire public and not just a wealthy minority. In places outside Ann Arbor, recycling isn’t always easy. A wide variety of items, such as styrofoam, are accepted here, but not elsewhere. In cities where waste management doesn’t have adequate resources, you have to make a concerted effort to dispose of recyclables. Similarly, local farmers’ markets might seem like the best choice when it comes to purchasing your produce, but there aren’t farmers’ markets everywhere. And the difference in price that might seem infinitesimal to us may be enough to outweigh the benefits of the farm-to-dinner table option.

However, there are also plenty of sustainable solutions as simple as unplugging your electronics after using them and taking the bus. You don’t have to go so far as to buy a hybrid car, solar panels and a wind turbine. Having those items doesn’t mean you’re saving the planet that much more than the other guy. The problem is that local, organic food and sustainability are far too often promoted as an alternative lifestyle when it should be integrated into normal lifestyle. But that takes time, money and a collective, inclusive effort. We should strive to create change without an air of superiority.

Nick can be reached at njbring@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *